The U.S. intelligence efforts in Libya suffered a major setback when a congressional hearing accidentally blew the CIA’s cover in a televised public hearing Wednesday, Reuters reported quoting the U.S. government sources.
During the hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee to examine security lapses that led to the killing of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi last month, the members inadvertently revealed that one of the two compounds — formally described by the U.S. administration as a “consulate” and a nearby “annex” — was a CIA base, the Washington Post reported.
Though Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) soon pointed out that the committee was “getting into classified issues that deal with sources and methods that would be totally inappropriate in an open forum such as this,” the damage was already done.
When a State Department official told Chaffetz that the material was “entirely unclassified” and that the aerial photo of the U.S. facilities in Benghazi displayed during the hearing was from a commercial satellite, he said: “I totally object to the use of that photo. I was told specifically while I was in Libya I could not and should not ever talk about what you’re showing here today,” the Post report said.
The publication of satellite photos showing the site's location and layout had made it difficult, if not impossible, for intelligence agencies to reoccupy the site, Reuters reported, citing the U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Committee chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) ordered the photo be taken down soon after Chaffetz’s objection. “Too bad he didn’t think of that before putting the CIA on C-SPAN,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milibank wrote.
Though the New York Times had previously reported that CIA operatives had been evacuated as a result of the attack, the newspaper “withheld locations and details of the facilities at the administration’s request.”
The Center for American Progress, which has ties to the White House, accused the Republicans of revealing the U.S. secret operations to the public: “The GOP — having spent months railing against the Obama administration for allegedly leaking classified information — yesterday revealed classified information,” it said in a blog post Thursday.
However, committee spokesman Frederick Hill said committee Democrats made matters worse by asking questions about the satellite photos. "Even after Republicans objected, Democrats continued to ask questions that led State officials to put even more sensitive information about who worked there into the public realm," Hill told Reuters.